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Mamman Sani’s balladry, Period’s meaty outbursts
Keyboardist Mamman Sani, of the West African nation of Niger, is a bit of an anomaly, having recorded electronic music in the ’70s and ’80s that garners comparisons to European and American artists such as Vangelis and Terry Riley, rather than his local contemporaries.
Although his pieces are often rooted in scales from Saharan folk music, the mood often evokes a calmer Liquid Sky more than desert sands.
Last year, Mamman’s rare 1978 cassette La Musique Électronique du Niger was reissued, and it offered lo-fi minimalist instrumental meanderings on organ, backed by a primitive drum machine, engaging in its own odd, slightly spooky way. His most recent release is Taaritt, available on vinyl and as a digital download, which compiles unreleased recordings created in the mid-to-late-’80s in Niger and France; the gait on Taaritt is similar to that on his 1978 tape, but each element seems to be a little more polished.
The sound quality is better, and everything is shinier and slicker with more of a sense of direction—although, aesthetically, it isn’t necessarily better or worse, since the wandering grittiness of the 1978 recordings had its own personality.
Sometimes the backing drum machine and underlying chords have the quality of the Casio-style consumer keyboard premade rhythms and chord shortcuts, letting Mamman’s drifting solos carry the songs. “Amiram” sticks out, with drums that are a little firmer than usual and dripping disco electronic tom beats.
Seemingly contradictory, the luster can be simultaneously stark and chilly while also drawing the listener in with warmth generated from the melodic movements, bringing to mind the work of the early ’70s pioneering electronic outfit TONTO’s Expanding Head Band. Just a taste of Mamman’s style may be enough for some, since some of the less distinctive passages bleed together.
However, Taaritt is more than merely an exercise of West African scales on keyboards, with synthetic balladry creating unmistakably human expressions.
Who said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”? I hope not Michael Vick. But anyway, that quote comes to mind when listening to the second album from the NYC-based outfit Period.
On the appropriately titled 2, arriving eight years after the band’s debut, although there are passages with torrents of notes and beats, what often stand out the most are the passages that are more sparing; instead of going for the million-notes-a-second speed-shredding, guitarist Charlie Looker is more selective, allowing each note to have a greater gravity and intensity, perhaps like a raging chihuahua, knowing that a single note can have a big sound.
The stirring album manages to draw from sludge metal and doom rock and also avant-thrash-jazz; drummer Mike Pride does not shy away from meaty drum outbursts, and on the track “Two,” he imbues the throb of rock while upholding a free, unfettered style, ever so gradually elevating the magnitude.
Looker switches between repeated pedal notes and higher dissonant chords, as if he is having a confounding conversation with himself, with one unyielding voice and a different, confused and conflicted voice.
On “Four,” vocalist Chuck Bettis provides his disquieting wordless shouts and wails while Looker gets his money’s worth out of two notes and Pride beats away in a gloriously and satisfyingly indulgent manner; after a little breathing room in the middle, Bettis ends with pained gasps and gurgles.
Several tracks feature the formidable saxophonists Sam Hillmer (of Zs) and Darius Jones (of Little Women), adding to the terror-jazz improvisations. In certain ways, Period is similar to John Zorn’s avant-grind trio Painkiller, but Period feels more unpredictable and genuinely unhinged.
Confounding expectations, the albums ends in a generally softer style with the acoustic-guitar-enhanced “Eleven,” which starts with ample space before getting nervous and bustling, and “Eight,” with bowed cymbals, nonsensical guitar chords and softer—yet still crazy—vocals, providing an enigmatic ending for an otherwise severe and fierce album.